Saturday, April 4, 2020

James Lee Burke On A Boy’s Memory Of America Amid The Coronavirus Epidemic: The Author Recalls How The Nation Rallied When World War II And The Polio Epidemic Threatened.

The Tampa Bay Times offers an essay by James Lee Burke on how America weathered earlier crises: 

Author James Lee Burke is best known for his bestselling books about Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux, crime novels that delve into some of humanity’s darkest impulses. In this essay, Burke, who at age 83 has vivid memories of his childhood during World War II and the polio epidemic, writes about our better angels. 

The essay first appeared on Burke’s Facebook page and is printed with permission. Burke’s 40th book, and his latest about Robicheaux, A Private Cathedral, will be published by Simon & Schuster on May 26. — Colette Bancroft, Times book editor.

Hello, everyone. These are depressing times, but I would like to share with you some memories and lessons I always found helpful in dealing with what Gram Parsons called In My Darkest Hour.

I remember how frightened I was when, on December 7, 1941, at 1:15 p.m., a radio music program was interrupted in the little cafe where I was eating Sunday dinner with my parents. A news broadcaster informed everyone the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. No one moved or spoke, as though they were inside a motion picture film and the projector had frozen the image on the screen. When a child sees fear in the faces of adults, the fear transfers to him like a contagion, magnified many times.

But I learned a quick lesson about the country I was born in. Men and women all over the nation stood in long lines to volunteer for the armed services. Every week President Franklin Roosevelt had one of his Fireside Chats with over 100 million people, assuring us that the only fear we needed to fear was fear itself. Food and gasoline were immediately rationed, but no one complained. My family’s ration book allowed us one small chicken and one small roast a week. It was impossible to buy sugar or butter. In four years I saw only one instance of hoarding. A man down the street was caught with a garage full of canned goods and fined heavily. He also lived the rest of his life in disgrace.

We had other problems as well. My family lived in the polio capital of America. Nobody knew what caused it or the origins of the virus. At age 8 I spent almost one year in bed with perhaps a case of polio or perhaps rheumatic fever or perhaps both. Diagnostic medicine was often based on speculation and was nothing like it is today. But I felt very sick and lived in fear of diseases that had control of my body, but could not be confronted or medicated or even adequately defined.

You can read the rest of the essay via the below link: 

You can also read my Washington Times On Crime column on James Lee Burke via the below link:

And you can read my post on the Polio epidemic via the below link: 

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